UC Berkeley press release


Five UC Berkeley faculty to receive1997 Distinguished Teaching Awards, the campus's top classroom honor

Berkeley -- A professor whose students liken her style to alchemy, another whose midterms are "a masterpiece" and still another who's an odd-on favorite to make her students shout "Aha!" are among the five recipients of the 1997 UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award.

The award, given annually since 1959 by the Committee on Teaching of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, recognizes excellence in teaching at the University of California at Berkeley.

This year's recipients are: Elizabeth Abel of English, Chenming Hu of electrical engineering and computer sciences, Pedro A. Noguera of the Graduate School of Education, Deborah Nolan of statistics and Jasper Rine of molecular and cell biology.

They will be honored at a ceremony at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, in Zellerbach Playhouse.

Also honored will be the recipient of this year's Educational Initiatives Award. It is presented annually to a department or unit in recognition of distinctive contributions to undergraduate education. This year's award winner is the Undergraduate Minor in Education in the Graduate School of Education.

The ceremony will include remarks by Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol T. Christ, Academic Senate Chair John Quigley and Alumni Association President Richard Russell. It features a multi-media tape presentation about the distinguished teachers. (For more detail click here.)

The public is invited to the ceremony and the reception that follows in the Toll Room of the Alumni House.

o Abel treasures one-on-one advising

Elizabeth Abel, associate professor of English, who specializes in feminist theory and modern fiction, is able to transform a classroom "into a genuinely open intellectual space," according to one of her colleagues.

"My philosophy of teaching," said Abel, "is grounded in my desire to help students develop and trust their own voices in the midst of the tumultuous debates unfolding in the humanities today.

"More than any other aspect of teaching, I treasure one-on-one advising."

It is in office hours and conferences, she said, that she can elicit "the often buried, anxiety-producing questions which engage students most intensely."

Students praise her concern for them: "Her interest in us makes such a difference. She has brought off the near alchemical task of teaching us to examine the texts in relevant ways through a lecture style that invites class participation."

Among her scholarly pursuits, Abel has written and lectured widely on Virginia Woolf. Her seminars on Woolf are legendary, and justly so, according to one student.

"This seminar has been an exhausting adventure, consuming the texts of Virginia Woolf. And it has been the most rewarding experience of my life," the student said.

Abel joined the Department of English in 1982. She received her BA from Swarthmore College in 1967 and her PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University in 1975.

o For Hu, his research is all teaching material

Electrical Engineering Professor Chenming Hu, a specialist in microelectronic devices, inspires students through his own excitement about his field.

He "can cause a person to want to 'grow-up to be just like him.' It was clear that he has a great interest in his profession and wants others to know its joy and excitement," said one admiring student.

A colleague said that the notion that "simplicity is beautiful" is basic to Hu's teaching: "To him, 'advanced understanding' of a physical phenomenon means that one can explain that phenomenon in easily understandable language and visualizable forms."

Hu also encourages his engineering students to "look beyond the school walls." He recently initiated a program in which undergraduates undertake engineering projects that ease the lives of individual handicapped children.

Regarding his research, Hu said, "I rely on my research to make me a teacher who brings the latest knowledge and the exciting developments in industry to my teaching."

But he is known to regularly pass up conferences in order not to miss class. "I am as excited standing in front of 20 lower division students," he said, "as I am speaking to 500 researchers at a scientific conference."

Hu joined the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences in 1976. He received his BS from National Taiwan University in 1968 and his PhD in Electrical Engineering from UC Berkeley in 1973.

o Noguera challenges students at every turn

The transformative nature of Pedro A. Noguera's teaching is what sets it apart for many students. They frequently comment that he "opened our minds" and "changed our perceptions."

"The classroom can be exciting and challenging," said Noguera. "Professors and students can grow intellectually, often in some unpredictable and truly remarkable ways."

Noguera, whose courses address issues of race, ethnicity and poverty as they impact schooling, teaching and learning, said that one of his goals is to encourage students to "raise difficult issues without feeling intimidated."

"By seeking out their thoughts and responses to my ideas, and by holding out my own explanations and formulations to scrutiny and debate," he said, "I have been able to encourage a critical stance toward the material and toward learning generally."

Colleagues and students praise Noguera for practicing what he preaches. "No one on the Berkeley faculty has contributed more to the resolution of the problems facing urban education in the East Bay than Pedro Noguera," said a colleague. Noguera was an elected member of the Berkeley School Board from 1990 to 1994 and is a member of the Centers for Disease Control National Taskforce on Youth Violence.

"He is a dynamic lecturer, provides excellent analysis and is interested in students. In addition, his involvement goes beyond the classroom. He is actively fighting for change," said one of his students.

An associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, Noguera joined the faculty in 1990. He received his BA from Brown University in 1981 and his PhD in sociology from Berkeley in 1989.

o Nolan puts the odds in her students' favor

Professor Deborah Nolan of statistics says, "There is an 'Aha!' quality to figuring out the chance that someone wins the lottery twice and to figuring out whether you should switch doors when Monte Hall opens one to reveal a donkey."

"One of my goals," she said, "is to get students to shout 'Aha!' when they solve these problems."

She succeeds at this, and admirably, according to her students. "I would say the best aspect of her teaching genius is her ability to introduce complex, theoretical concepts in statistics and bring them down to the real world. This made learning easier and at the same time pleasurable," explained one of her students.

Large numbers of students in statistics courses come from other disciplines, and Nolan is noted for working with and encouraging all students in their understanding of statistics.

A colleague marveled that "she employed an arsenal of pedagogical techniques to involve and challenge the students, to bring them quickly to an understanding of the basic concepts of probability and statistics and then to expose them to exciting problems and original journal articles."

Nolan, whose research interests are empirical processes, cross-validation and model selection, joined the Department of Statistics in 1986. She received her AB from Vassar College in 1977 and her PhD in statistics from Yale University in 1986.

o Rine's lectures are gems

"Facts just aren't that important," said Jasper Rine, professor of genetics in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. He recognizes the blasphemous nature of his view, but pointed out that approximately 300 new papers are published in just his research field every week.

"Faced with growth in biological knowledge of this magnitude," he said, "I have wrestled with how one is to teach modern and useful biology."

Rine succeeds in this daunting task. Said a former student, "He was concise, organized, entertaining and perhaps most important, friendly.

"His midterm was a masterpiece, every question was clear and understandable and they were each brain-teasers. They probed beyond surface understanding and required us to apply concepts in new ways."

Colleagues praise him for his lecturing style. His research seminars, said one, "have become canonized by the eponymous term, a 'Rinestone' lecture, which is used by our students to refer to a seminar that is a gem. However, in Jasper's case, a Rinestone is a valuable gem."

A fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and former director of the Human Genome Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Rine joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1982. He received his BS from the State University of New York at Albany in 1975 and his PhD in molecular genetics from the University of Oregon in 1979.

o Undergraduates and the community are winners

What do students, parents, employers and public officials expect of formal education? How realistic are these expectations? These are just a few of the questions dealt with by students in the Undergraduate Minor in Education.

The Graduate School of Education instituted the Undergraduate Minor in Education in response to an increased desire among undergraduates to undertake serious intellectual inquiry into the nature of education.

In addition, the undergraduate minor could potentially serve as a vehicle to pique the interest of bright young persons, especially persons of color, in a career in the field of education.

With the advent of the minor, the Graduate School of Education has become a campus leader in the number of undergraduate students enrolled in its courses who are making valuable contributions to our Bay Area communities.

More than 260 students each semester are actively engaged in Bay Area communities as laboratories, through the various service learning aspects of the minor.

"This program," said one faculty member, "is a cutting edge example of high quality undergraduate education focused on a crucial institution in our society."

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